Trek Notes - Italy

Splendours of Sicily

On this holiday you combine some of the island’s classic sites with its untouched heartland in the Southern Eastern tip. Travelling in a small group with our expert local guide in an air-conditioned minibus, you’ll be able to make a relaxed exploration of the classic sites as well as discovering out of the way places tourists that few (if any) British tourists get to see.

Our hotel in Taormina where you spend the first three nights is tucked away up the steps behind the Piazza del Duomo in the ancient heart of the town. From where there are glorious views over Etna and the bay of Naxos.

Our second hotel is in the countryside near Modica. A restored baglio (fortified farmhouse with thick outer walls designed to keep out attackers), surrounded by olive trees and geraniums, it is run bt Tina and Philippo. You'll find that nearly all ingredients for your evening meals are grown here on the farm. The rooms are decorated in the rustic arte povera style with dark wooden furniture brightened by multi-coloured rugs and fabrics.

We have organised half board for you in Modica, and continental breakfast on in Taormina so that you can sample the wide array of restaurants in the town. Evening meals are a feast of Sicilian cuisine - fresh seafood, fine pasta dishes, local fruit and irresistible pastries (try cannolo, a crunchy tube of pastry filled with ricotta cheese studded with candied fruit, pistachio nuts and bits of chocolate). Wash it down with wine from the slopes of Mt Etna or one of the other excellent local wines. For lunch we’ll either stop at local restaurants or trattorie, or shop for a picnic.

Day 1

We meet you at Catania airport and drive you (90 mins) to the hotel in time for dinner in a local restaurant with your guide, Salvatore.

Day 2 
Mount Etna Walk
We take the minibus on a panoramic road up Mount Etna as far as the dormant Sylvestri craters at 2000m. Then it's into a cable car for a climb up to 2500m (breathtaking views over the Valle del Bove) and a ride in a jeep up to 3000m. An alpine guide takes us as close as safety allows to the active craters - fingers crossed that it's a day when they're belching out stones, lava is flowing and the sound-effects are in full swing! After lunch we walk through pine forests around Montenero degli Zappani, maybe spotting wild hare and porcupines, around the smaller dead craters. Stunning view of Etna's lower flanks, terraced with villages built out of its black rock.

Day 3 
Monte Venere and Taormina
We set off at the top of Taormina for Castelmola, the tiny hamlet above it to start the steady climb to Monte Venere. It's worth the effort when you get to the top! The view stretches across Taormina and the Bay of Naxos, even as far as Calabria on a fine day. We lunch on home-made cheese, local olives and freshly baked bread before returning to Taormina via the Madonna della Rocca sanctuary with balcony views over the town's Greek theatre. Time to explore this, and Taormina's other treasures - baths, forum, parliament, churches, palaces and even an Odeon (circa 2C!) - before dinner.

Day 4 

We make an early start, stopping to visit the remains of ancient Siracusa (Syracuse) where a Greek theatre and a Roman amphitheatre uniquely stand side-by-side. The city once rivalled Athens as the most beautiful in the Greek world. St Paul was a visitor and Archimedes died here. There's a massive sacrificial altar and a cavern with remarkable acoustics which Caravaggio dubbed 'the Ear of Dionysius'. Lunch is at a typical tavola calda, then we explore the island of Ortygia, the original site of Siracusa where the Greeks first landed. The duomo has been a temple, a church and a mosque. We arrive in time for dinner at our baglio hotel.

Day 5 
Noto Antica and the Cava Frigentini
We explore the ghost town of 'old' Noto, once a flourishing medieval city. Now a site of melancholy ruins, it was abandoned after the 1693 earthquake and perches between two gorges in an eerie stillness. We walk back past olive groves, through scented herbs and along a tree-lined avenue. After lunch there's a spectacular walk down the 100m deep Cava Frigentini gorge. At the bottom is a line of aquamarine rock pools fringed with pink oleander, wild anemones, saffron and cyclamen where we bathe if it's warm enough.

Day 6 
Vendicari Reserve and Baroque Noto 3-4 hrs
Today's walk takes us into the wetlands of Vendicari, Europe's most southerly nature reserve and a miniature ecosystem supporting marine and freshwater plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. In spring and autumn it's a rest stop for migrating African birds, including flamingos. There are hidden coves, a Phoenician port and a former tuna fishery. After a picnic we visit Baroque Noto, a 'new' town of churches and palaces, with one of Sicily's most beautiful squares. It was built in 1703 to a symmetrical plan by the best architects of the day.

Day 7 
Cava d'Ispica
4 hrs
We explore the Cava d'Ispica gorge, which is honeycombed with caves that have been used as Neolithic graves, Christian catacombs and medieval dwellings. Some tombs, banked on top of one another, are even 'high rise!' We lunch by the larderia necropolis (an impressive network of tombs) then follow a path up to the so called castello cave for stunning views along the gorge. In the afternoon we meet Don Beppino, the 89-year-old unofficial curator who discovered many of the caves and loves to invite visitors into his home to reminisce.

Day 8 
We take you to Catania airport for the flight home.

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